This month’s article has been inspired by the experience of my 47th recorded PhINC. (Phone Incited Near Collision). I started my Monday holiday with a lovely morning run, and as I’m soaking up the sight of the first autumn colours and the sweet sounds of waking Rosella, out of nowhere an entourage – consisting of one phone absorbed woman, one moving pram (presumably complete with baby) and 2 large dogs – directly intersects my path. Lucky for me my poor vision is more than compensated for by my fast reaction times, and I was narrowly able to avert a potentially messy outcome. And because this scenario is now so common, I felt compelled to coin a new acronym. If you’ve experienced something worse, or got a better acronym than PhINC, I’d love to hear from you. Better still, why not help me get a public ‘Look UP!’ campaign off the ground.
More seriously, I finished my run thinking about all the important reasons – other than public safety – to look up. Every screen staring dog walker is missing out on all those beautiful autumn sights, sounds and smells,not to mention the chance to exchange smiles with a neighbour, whilst at the same time risking personal and canine catastrophe! We can’t smell the roses with our nose in a screen – look up and take in the little things around us that can bring us great joy.
People used to day-dream or make idle conversation in queues, at the bus stop or waiting to meet friends at cafe – now we look (and feel) like a social misfit if we’ve alone in public without something really important to check on our device. Look up and smile at the person opposite, it might make their (or your) day! Drag your eyes away from your screen and be with your own thoughts – we need these times to process the happenings of the day, form opinions, draw conclusions, plan for the future or come up with new and exciting ideas. Look up and chat with the person next to you – it may be an interesting conversation or you could end up talking to your future spouse!
I don’t drive so I’m on public transport every day, and I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone offer their seat to someone who needed it – not because people are heartless (I hope), but because everyone is engrossed in their phone. Children and adults alike fail to notice the pregnant woman, the teenager on crutches or the old man teetering precariously in the aisle right next to them. Look up – you might just notice someone who’s frail, lost, unwell or who’s just had a really bad day amd who could do with a hand, a seat or a kind word.
I’m sure we’ve all witnessed the slightly ironic sight of couples, large groups of teenagers or adult colleagues supposedly enjoying each other’s company at a café or social gathering whilst all are absorbed in the private world of their own devices. Social connection is such an important contributor to our mental health and well-being, yet I fear we’re losing the ability to relate in an authentic and meaningful way to the people we’re with in the real world. Look up and connect with the important people around you. You chose to be with them for a reason – notice the subtle clues that tell you how someone is really feeling, share something about yourself, listen deeply, create trust, and let’s not lose the experience and the joy of true human connection.
I want to end with a much more poignant scenario. This last week two of my closest friends have been touched by suicide. Two beautiful men with strengths and with vulnerabilities who got to a place where they could no longer look up. Their perspective had narrowed to such a point where they saw only one, tragic way forward. When we experience challenging circumstances, troublesome thoughts, painful feelings or a deep sense of hopelessness, look upwards and outwards – not to deny those feelings or sensations, not to cover them up and pretend to ourselves and the world that they don’t exist or don’t matter, but to connect with the people who love, nurture and ground us, and who can help offer a different perspective on the reality we’ve created.
The great Stephen Hawking was wise on so many levels:
“Remember to look up at the stars
and not down at your feet….
if you feel you are in a black hole,
don’t give up – there’s a way out.”